Still Out There After All These Years
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When the Happy Together show hit the Foellinger Theatre last summer, it may have been the greatest gathering of hit-making talent to ever take one stage in one evening in northeast Indiana. With its return this year, Happy Together brings back the Turtles (Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, alias Flo & Eddie), the Cowsills and Mark Lindsay from Paul Revere & the Raiders and adds to that incredible lineup Chuck Negron from Three Dog Night, Gary Puckett and the Spencer Davis Group. There will be no shortage of star power on stage that night either.
Although Spencer Davis says he’s worked with all of the featured bands in more than 50 years of music-making, this is his first time touring with Happy Together, and he was anxious to get back on the road after a brief break he referred to “my Medical Mystery Tour.”
“I’ve never really stopped touring except for that break,” he says, reporting that he’s now feeling fine. “I’ve known Howard and Mark for many, many years, and they’re always a delight. They are the ultimate pros and very, very funny and down-to-earth. But they’re also very hard working, which I very much appreciate.”
He says sharing the stage on this tour, where each performer plays a brief set before yielding to the next, is fun for the bands and for the audience since there are so many great songs represented.
“The show is very fast-moving because it’s really just a mobile jukebox. Everyone goes out there and plays four or five songs, and they’re all million sellers, so everyone is singing along with you. These songs are far bigger than the artists themselves. They have legs of their own, and they won’t stop running. And the audiences aren’t just old people, but young people who are finding out about these songs and enjoying them too.”
The Spencer Davis Group, formed in Birmingham in 1963, featured not only Davis, a Welshman who was in Birmingham to attend college, but also a young Steve Winwood, just 15 years of age when he joined the group. By 1967, a pair of iconic classics – “I’m a Man” and “Gimme Some Lovin'” – had launched the group not only in their native United Kingdom but also in the United States where they began touring. Winwood and his brother Muff departed shortly after, with Steve playing with Traffic and Blind Faith before having a very successful solo career. Davis has remained active ever since and embraces the opportunity to continue to play the songs of that era.
“To not play those songs is called ‘burning your bridges,'” says Davis. “Those are the songs that people come to hear, so that’s what I have to give them. I can’t disappoint people. That’s why I don’t understand when performers who shall remain nameless say ‘Oh I don’t do that song anymore.'”
Having come into the music industry during a time when the Beatles and the Rolling Stones were peers, Davis is proof – along with many of the others of that era – that it’s still possible to rock hard well into your 60s and even 70s. He points to the irony for some performers who probably didn’t anticipate they’d still be at it in their later years.
“Pete Townshend is a friend, but I have to laugh when I think of him writing ‘Hope I die before I get old’ because he’s still out there too.”
Although he still has beloved family in Wales who he will visit in September after the Happy Together tour wraps up, home these days is off the coast of California. Life in Los Angeles doesn’t appeal to him, but he feels a peace in his home on Catalina Island. Now a grandfather of five, he goes to his home in Avalon to recharge his batteries before heading back on the road.
“The mainland is a nightmare, primarily because the traffic is terrible. But as soon as I get on that ferry and cross over into Catalina, it’s like finding Shangri-La. And I enjoy spending time with my kids and grandchildren. Last time I was home I wasn’t able to see my little one – he’s another Spencer Davis, and he’s 22 months old. My daughter, Lisa, just turned 50 and joined me on stage to sing a few songs when we played out there a couple weeks ago.”
Bragging about family and traveling from Wales to California to spend time with them is clearly important, but it’s also apparent when he speaks that he doesn’t choose to remain idle very long, anxious to return to his guitar and time on the stage.
“I’m on the road a lot, but when I take a break I take a break. It is nice not to have to drag a razor over my face. In fact, we just had a week off and no one recognized me when we saw each other again.”
Aside from this tour and his plans to visit family in September, Davis is also joining forces with his friend Donovan in October for an 85th birthday celebration for Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a performance that will be broadcast via satellite. When asked if he plans to record, he’s non-committal, but he does say ideas for new songs are always present.
“Sometimes I’ll just be talking to someone and a word or phrase will strike me, and I’ll think ‘That would be good in a song.'”
And it’s impossible to talk to Davis without asking the inevitable question: any plans for a reunion with Winwood?
“I talk to Muff a lot, and I talked to Steve maybe six or seven weeks ago. There’s pressure on us to do a show together, but nobody has stepped up with anything concrete yet. We’re one of the few bands left where we’re all still alive, so fingers crossed that that remains true! But many of the bands from that era are dropping like flies, and we’re not immortal. It would be nice to do a show together, especially in Birmingham where we started out.”
In the meantime, Davis looks forward to coming to the Foellinger this month. Although he’s never played in that venue, it’s not his first time in the area.
“Fort Wayne was one of the first places we played when we came to America for the first time in 1967. So hopefully I’ll see some familiar faces from that visit in the audience this time, too.”